I just wanted to inform you all about a new film guide just out entitled the Directory of World Cinema: Japan, edited by John Berra and published by Intellect Books. I contributed a number of film reviews to it and an essay on the yakuza genre as well. From what I understand, the book will be updated annually, and I’ll have a few reviews in the volume two edition also.
Whether it’s kill-crazy yakuza hipsters, a taciturn ronin who talks best with his sword, gigantic rubber-suited atomic monsters battling their genetic equals while scared Tokyoites watch on helplessly, tender portrayals of everyday people just trying to get through another day with some semblance of dignity, genre-bending new wave revolutionaries, or blood curdling tales of ghosts, demons, and horrors from beyond the realm of sanity–Japanese cinema has long been a consistent goldmine for the intrepid world cinema-goer. Although Japan was producing films since the beginning of the medium, its bounty of cinematic offerings only really flourished into the outside world in the post-World War Two era when directors like Akira Kurosawa (Rashomon, 1950), Kenji Mizoguchi (The Life of Oharu, 1952), Teinosuke Kinugasa (Gate of Hell, 1953), and Yasujiro Ozu (Tokyo Story, 1953) gained considerable notice from film festivals abroad with their respective films. There was also, of course, the mighty Gojira (aka Godzilla) that stomped into cinemas in 1954 and would arguably become Japan’s most visible and popular cinematic export for decades. Regardless of their entertainment value (which is high in my opinion), the kaiju movies unfortunately also gave many moviegoers–who wouldn’t know their Kurosawa from their Ozu–the wrong impression regarding the quality of Japanese films. Unfortunately, for those who only knew about Japanese films via Godzilla, Rodan, Monster X, and the Smog Monster–films that were routinely shown on American televisions in horribly but hilariously English dubbed versions–the idea of Japan offering up anything other than plastic monster mashes was probably unfathomable.
But time and the luxury of modern technology has erased those impressions, I think. The availability of classic Japanese films on DVD from Kurosawa, Mizoguchi, Ozu, et al, and the emergence of such disparate contemporary directors as Hayao Miyazaki, Satoshi Kon, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Takashi Miike, and Takeshi Kitano, has been a bounty for film enthusiasts the world over as more and more of their work has become available. And if you’re a genre fan, the availability of previously obscure kaiju, chambara, yakuza, J-Horror, anime, and pink films, has grown as well, although there is still much left untapped.
If you’ve never watched a Japanese film before or your appreciation runs no deeper than Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, but you want to plunge further although you really don’t know where to start… picking up a copy of the new Directory of World Cinema: Japan is a great place to begin. And if your insights into Japanese cinema are well-honed and you’ve moved far beyond the established critically lauded films, I think you’ll still find plenty of valuable well-informed analysis in it.